During the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) patriotic stationery—illustrated letterheads and envelopes—was widely used, particularly for letters to and from the battlefront. These envelopes are known to collectors as “patriotic covers.” However, the first picture-backed government-issued postal cards were produced in Austria-Hungary, and the images depicted the Franco-Prussian War. Nearly three million of these cards sold in 1870.

The popularity of postcards began to decline during World War I. At the time, many American companies had designed their own postcards, but they had been shipped to Germany or Austria for high-quality and low-cost printing. Even English publishers, like Raphael Tuck and Sons, had their cards printed in Germany or Austria. Thus the Great War, beginning in 1914, disrupted the production of cards. Plus, the somber mood created by the conflict made postcards seem like disrespectful frivolities. In 1918, the postage rates for postcards doubled, and after the war, telephones became the preferred means for staying in touch.

Even so, U.S. manufacturers began to produce their own cards around 1915. These were much lower in quality, as lush lithography was replaced by half-tone process printing, and they generally had a white border. But the war was a compelling reason to send postcards across the Atlantic in both directions, as soldiers and their loved ones exchanged updates via post. Wartime postcards most often depicted military leaders, officers, and soldiers, as well as explosions and bombed-out buildings.

In Europe, the war was all-consuming, resulting in a plethora of propaganda postcards which solidified the divide between “us” and “them” on both sides. “Positive” proganda cards rallied both the Allies and Central Powers to fight “For King and Country.” On the other hand, “negative” propaganda cards were designed to ridicule and belittle enemies.

Central Powers postcards asserted the superiority of German people and technology and the inferiority of the Allies. In such comic cards, the Allies would be subjected to a demeaning type of punishment reserved for children or dogs. Even the German mythological figure Michel, who represents the laid-back and gentle side of the national character, was depicted as an aggressor. The Allies would often be portrayed as animals that did not deserve human respect.

Some of the most powerful anti-German propaganda postcard sets were produced by Italian postcard artist Tito Corbell, who made an important series of cards telling the story of nurse Edith Cavell, who was killed by German soldiers. Collectors, however, tend to favor Corbell’s more lighthearted work, like his images of glamorous women.

In England, the Bamforth publishing company, known for its mildly risqué “seaside” cards, produced many mocking and emasculating cards against the Germans. British historian G.M...

The most beautiful cards made during World War I are known as “silks.” French and Belgian refugee women would embroider designs on silk—usually incorporating British, French, and American flags—and ship them to factories to be trimmed and mounted onto postcard backs. These were tremendously popular with American and British soldiers stationed in France; it’s estimated that more than 10 million were produced before they died out in 1923.

Some of these postcards had flaps so that a tiny printed greeting card could be slipped between the silk and backboard. Generally they lack postage stamps because they were sent in Military Mail pouches at no charge to the soldier.

Silks were different from “linens,” a new kind of postcard that emerged post-World War I, made from an uncoated card stock that had a fabric-like texture and tended to feature garish colors. During World War II, as in the first world war, servicemen could send postcards home for free. Postcards became an important and easy means for soldiers to connect with their families, wives, and girlfriends back home, a quick way to let them know, “I’m still alive and thinking about you.”

Naturally, postcards were used for propaganda during World War II. Many of these propaganda postcards were relatively innocuous, sent within the U.S. and to and from soldiers, cheerleading the war effort. Evidence also suggests, though, that “black” propaganda postcards were used by the U.S. as a part of psychological warfare.

The Office of Strategic Services put out postcards that appeared to be German in origin, using real German postcard images and German wording that opposed Hitler and the Nazi Party, intended to suggest there was a strong anti-Fascist underground movement. Documentation indicates these cards were printed at a press taken over by the Morale Operation department of the OSS. As these cards were likely destroyed by the Nazis, they are extremely rare; only a few examples are known to exist today.

But for loved ones back home in America, the most popular kinds of cards to send to the boys overseas are what are known as “arcade postcards” or “girlie cards.” Based on the pin-ups of Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, George Petty, Alberto Vargas, and others, these images of sexy ladies were meant to cheer up and provide a well-earned diversion to war-weary soldiers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Carthalia

Carthalia

Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]

myArmoury.com

myArmoury.com

This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Solid Silver Antique Small Mustard Artists Rifles Leonard Cup 1912 Kia Ww1 NrGerman Wwi Armorer Workshop Tools Stick GrenadeTipton Rppc~g.a.r. Vets At Pa Memorial~gettysburg~civil War~vintage C1910 PhotoTurkey / Lebanon - Beirut - Imperial Ottoman Soldiers In Practice, Ed. SarrafianTurkey / 1910 Mustafa Kemal Ataturk In Picardie - Military - Officiers EtrangersColectable Clothes Ww1 Childs Uniforms 2 Uniforms With Hat And HelmetDupont Gun Powder Co. Hunting Dog Post Cards By E.osthaus-complete Series Of 13Seymour At Tientsin - Germans To The Front! Pcd Used Tsingtau Kiautschou 1909Early Photo Postcard Of Johore Soldiers, Singapore.Old Ww1 Postcard Photo Australian Soldiers In Pith Helmets Egypt, PyramidsDuke Of Cornwall's Light Infantry Mocking The Kaiser, Ww1. Cornish Pasty 1915Turkey / Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - Military - Litho 40 Ww1 Era Postcards Incl. Soldier Portraits Also Silk & Actresses (jw3)Ww1 Wwi Postcard ~ Anzac, Gallipoli ~ One Of The Anzacs ~ Australia, New ZealandTurkey / 1915 Dardanelles, Allied Warship Bombardment In Gallipoli - NavyNew Zealand Expeditionary Force. Ww1 Greetings From Nz Troops. Y.m.c.a. C1915 Ww2 Old Photo Original German Soldier Elite Waffen Ss Joachim PeiperTurkey / Lebanon - Beirut / Ottoman Soldiers In Practice, Ed. Sarrafian1910 Era Original Rppc Thor Iv Motorcycle Army Infantry Rider Military Photo Old Ww1 Postcard Studio Photo Australian Soldier With Swagger Stick & Slouch HatLot Of 32 Ww1 Comic Troops Action Patriotic 1910sRare Old Ww1 Postcard Australian Souvenir Patriotic Post Card Bugle CallOld Ww1 Postcard Photo Australian Soldier With 303 Bayonet & Slouch HatTurkey / 1918 Mersine - Military, Generals, Religious Man, Ed.armenian TorossianTurkey / Constantinople - Taxim - Occupation (iTurkey / 1915 Dardanelles, Lord Kitchener Visit To Gallipoli - Military X1759 Ww1 British Colonial Fighters Hindu Sikh Washing In Field PostcardRppc Soldiers At Railroad Depot Kozowa / Kozova Galicia Poland / Ukraine C.19201907 Postcard - Boer War Soldiers Memorial, Goulburn, Nsw, AustraliaVintage Postcard King Carol Ii Of Romania Great Military Uniform !!Pre Ww 1 Rp Postcard British Indian Army Sikh Infantry Parade Fyzabad 1914 Ww2 Old Photo Original German Tank Man Elite Waffen Ss 25U.s.n. Aircraft Carrier , Etc. A Mutoscope CardTurkey / Lebanon - Liban - General Sarrail With Turkish Flag, MilitaryCivil War G.a.r. Drum Corps~hotel Monroe, Joliet, Ilinois~vintage C1912 PostcardTurkey / Volontaires De Gumuldjina De L'armee De Liberte / Military, PostedTurkey / Armenia - 3 Soldiers Armenian And Turkish Together, Ww1, Military"the Parker Gun" Advertising Card Meriden Ct Turkey / Ww1 - Military & Sultan Rechad - K.wilhelm - Bulgarian & SoldiersPostcard Argentina Gunboat Uruguay Antarctic Rescue 1903 Nordensjold Old Ww1 Postcard Studio Photo Aif Australian Soldier Signals UnitEarly Rppc Real Photo Uss Texas Band Scotland Postcard Military Army Zs6955Rppc Armored Motor Truck (wh Horne Co) Mexican Civil WarCivil War Soldiers Sailors Monument Indianapolis In. Ribbon 1902 Gar Ribbon Old3 X Vintage Military Active Service Ww1 Photo Postcard Australian Anzac DiggerGerman Military 1912 Postcard Early Armored Car "panzer Machine" Better Ww2 Old Photo Original German Soldier Elite Waffen Ss 2 German Wwii U-boot Ace Schuhart Commander Of U-29 Gray Wolf Pcd Used 1944 Ww2 Old Photo Original German Soldier Elite Waffen Ss Herbert Otto GilleBig Guns On Warship. Real Photo, U.s.s., Nevada? CancelVintage Estate Lot Of Approximately 2000 Postcards-rppc-art-military-early 1900s1914 Gar Convention Detroit Civil War Vets Parade Rppc Real Photo PostcardTurkey / Angora (ankara) Military - Caserne - Monastere, Monastery Turkey / Constantinople - Taxim - Occupation - British Soldiers (iWw1 Wwi Postcard ~ Anzac ~ Australian Soldiers In The Snow - England 1916Texas Tx Real Photo Rppc Postcard 1914 Galveston Battleship Texas WwiTwo Wwi Silk Postcards: Usa Flags + Medical And Guard Tower (?) Embroidery Turkey / Sultan Mehmed - F.joseph - Kaiser Wilhelm & Flags, Ww1 - Propaganda Turkey / Propaganda - Enver Pacha And Other Soldiers - Military Ww1Ww1 Wwi Postcard ~ Here Comes Canada ~ Canadian Soldier ~ Military